Whitmer, legislative leaders to begin ‘quadrant meetings’

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News
Sen. Mike Shirkey, R-Clark Lake,  is sworn in by Chief Justice Stephen Markman.

Lansing — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will convene her first “quadrant meeting” with legislative leaders next week, her office confirmed Thursday, setting the stage for bipartisan negotiations during a period of divided government.

“I can’t wait for the first one,” said Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, told reporters.

The meetings will include the Democratic governor, Shirkey, Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich of Flint, Republican House Speaker Lee Chatfield of Levering and Democratic House Minority Leader Christine Greig of Farmington Hills.

Whitmer, a former Senate minority leader, announced plans to hold regular bipartisan meetings the day after her general election win on Nov. 6. Former Gov. Rick Snyder regularly talked with legislative leaders, but group meetings rarely occurred because of acrimony between legislators.

“Quadrant meetings haven’t been held as a regular matter since John Engler was governor,” Whitmer said last year. “Whether I can find common ground on issues with Republican leaders or not, we are going to sit and start to build relationships. I think when you talk, you can find common ground.”

Republicans return slimmer majorities to the House and Senate this term and are preaching bipartisanship early as they contemplate working with Whitmer and other Democrats who won statewide posts.

“If we’re going to get anything done of substance, we’re going to require some help or cooperation on both sides of the aisle,” Shirkey said in his first group media availability with Capitol reporters since becoming Senate leader.

“We know that we have to contemplate where my governor’s position is on certain things before we put our shoulders into certain things so that we anticipate how the response is going to be, especially if it’s a high priority that we want to get done.”

Shirkey said the top priority for Senate Republicans this term will be reforming the state’s auto no-fault insurance system.

Insurance rates for Michigan's motorists regularly rank among the highest in the nation, but reform efforts have vexed lawmakers in past sessions. Attempts to change the system have prompted fierce lobbying battles between hospitals, the insurance industry and trial attorneys.

Shirkey has not unveiled any concrete auto insurance proposals but said he expects the Senate GOP plan “will likely end up being pretty comprehensive.”

Senate Republicans are expected to introduce their first legislation next week. First, they’ll hold a “retreat” Thursday afternoon, meeting outside the state Capitol to discuss legislative goals for the year ahead.

House Republicans unveiled their first bills of the new term on Wednesday, including measures to reform civil asset forfeiture laws. They also reintroduced a 10-bill package that would subject the Legislature and governor’s office to public records requests.

Michigan ranked last in the nation in a rating of state ethics and transparency laws, but Chatfield this week promised the House will “put an end to this dark age in Michigan politics.”

“The people have the right to know the truth about what their government is doing, and we have the responsibility to tell them the truth,” he said.

Shirkey said Thursday he is open to conversations about expanding the state’s Freedom of Information Act or creating a new version that applies to the Legislature. But he also voiced reservations about “unintended negative consequences,” suggesting the House plan could face hurdles in the Senate.

“It’s hard to determine sometimes what is a personal email of mine and what is subject matter email of mine,” Shirkey said. “So I’m just very careful, very cautious about protecting people’s personal stuff.”

Ananich, the returning Democratic Senate leader, said this week he intends to introduce four bills he hopes to work with the Republican majority.

His legislation would create a child care credit for working families, a law to take back tax credits if a company moves jobs overseas, re-establish a water resources commission and repeal tough new petition drive rules approved last month during the so-called lame-duck session.

“We have a new governor who has reiterated again and again the importance of building bridges,” Ananich said. “The first step in achieving that goal is for us to reach across the aisle and demonstrate to the citizens that we truly do work for them, and I am very confident we are up to the task.”